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Parasha Notes: Wayeira 5778

Zohar, Wayeira:

What is the meaning of [Genesis 18:4-8]: “Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet… And I will fetch a morsel of bread… And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah…  And Abraham ran to the herd… And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed…”? When R’ Dimi came, he said, the soul found no purpose in the body except for what is alluded to here in the matter of sacrifices. Even if the sacrifices are no longer brought, the Torah lasts….

The Zohar continues with an idea found a number of times in the Talmud, that studying the passages concerning the sacrifices can make up for not offering them. The Zohar then continues:

Rabbi Krusp’dai said, he who verbally recites the matters of the sacrifices and their accouterments in the synagogues and study halls and has intent, it is guaranteed that those angels that recall his sins, to his detriment, will only be able to do good to him. Who will prove this? This section. It says, “and behold, three men were standing over him [alaw].” What does alaw really mean? They were investigating him. When that righteous man’s soul saw this, what does it say? “He ran to the tent.” What is the tent? The study hall. And what does it say? “Quick, prepare three measures of fine flour.” This is the nature of the sacrifices. The soul finds direction through them, and this is what “and Abraham ran to the herd” means.

That is, in the Zohar, the Torah’s description of Abraham’s vision of his interaction with the angels is a sacrificial ritual, just like the Covenant Between the Parts being an intricate sacrificial ritual. Similarly, the incidences described in Judges 6 and 13, wherein Gideon and Manoah, respectively,  offer to prepare “meals” for their angelic visitors, are also descriptions of sacrifices. Just like our prayers are brought before the Throne of Glory by the ministering angles, so too, the parts of the sacrifices burned on the altar are brought heavenward by the fire, and this is what the verses mean when they describe the angels as “eating.” As Psalms 104:4, says “[You] make winds Your angels, the flaming fire Your ministers,” the fire is the angel that raises the sacrifice.

This idea, that Abraham experienced a detailed divine revelation while performing a form of sacrifice is subtlety described in Onqelos’s translation. It says (18:8), “and he stood [‘omed] over them under the tree while they ate,” which in Aramaic is rendered, “and he ministered [m’shammeish],” the same verb used in the subsequent books of the Pentateuch as the translation for the main activities of the priests, la’avod and l’shareth. Further, it says that when the “men” had finished their mission to Abraham (18:22),  “the men turned from thence, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham was still standing [‘odennu ‘omed] before the Lord,” which is rendered, “but Abraham was still ministering in prayer [m’shammeish bitzlo] before the Lord.” That is, when the sacrifice was being consumed by the fire, Abraham stood under the tree in prayer, and continued in that state when God informed him of Sodom’s imminent destruction symbolized by the approach of the angels to the city, because the essential act of the sacrificial rite is the kawwana, the intention and concentration of the spirit brought about through prayer. Prayer and sacrifice go hand in hand, and it is only to our disadvantage that the divine service is missing. This point is reinforced after the upheaval, when we read (19:27), “Abraham got up early in the morning” to look out upon Sodom, “to the place where he had stood [asher ‘amad sham] before the Lord,” and once again the translation is “where he had ministered in prayer.”

This linguistic concept is most explicit in a verse (Deuteronomy 18:7), that, according to tradition (Rashi to ibid., 6), is referring to the subset of Levites known as Kohanim : “Then he shall serve, w’shereth, in the name of the Lord his God, as all his brethren the Levites do, who stand, ha’om’dim, there [in the Temple] before the Lord.” Both of those critical Hebrew verbs describing the sacrificial service, serving and standing, are translated into Aramaic as shimmush, ministering. All of this being considered, we can postulate that the sages decreed that the main obligatory prayer, the ‘amida, be offered while standing because of its essential connection to the sacrifices.

Last year, I wrote about the Midrashic/Talmudic concept of the Jewish home as the Sanctuary , and this was exemplified by that built by Abraham and Sarah, who in essence turned their tent into THE Sanctuary which featured an altar, sacrifice, pilgrimage, and divine revelation. This concept is also a motif in this parasha. It says that when Abraham first received the revelation, he was sitting pethah ha’ohel, “at the entrance of the tent,” once again, missing the preposition, which alludes to the placement of Abraham’s altar somewhere outside the tent, and when the angels delivered the news of Isaac’s conception, it says “w’sara shoma’ath pethah ha’ohel, Sarah was listening [at] the entrance of the tent,” i.e., she now occupied the place of the altar that Abraham had occupied, indicating her involvement in the meditation and sacrifice, and resultant revelation.

With all of this mind, we find that Parashath Wayeira is partially chiastic in that its conclusion is reminiscent of its opening. First we read about Abraham bringing a special form of Sacrifice before God and then receiving word of Isaac’s birth, and later we read about Abraham bringing a special sacrifice, the Binding of Isaac, and then he receives word of Rebecca’s birth. And, in both accounts, a “lad” is mentioned as assisting Abraham, and in both instances, the sages identified that lad as Ishmael, who was made to observe and learn from both episodes.

Continuing with the Maimonidean understanding of Lot’s vision, the angels refusing his invitation is an indication that he attempted to rectify the sin of Sodom, hostility to wayfarers, by showing them hospitality, and that it was rejected. Lot’s insistence represents the desperate personal conflict that animated him, a strong desire to do as Abraham had taught him, thus making him deserving of divine mercy, against an inability to separate himself from the depravity of his surroundings.


Natural Hadassim


Hallel and Kappara on Rosh Hodesh

There is a late custom to fast most days preceding Rosh Hodesh, the New Moon. Dubbed “Yom Kippur Qatan,” a Minor Day of Atonement, the pre-new-moon fast is usually not observed before Teiveth, for example, because it would coincide with Hanukka. Similarly, is not observed at the end of Tishrei or Nisan because of the festivity of those outgoing months. The basis for the practice is ostensibly that Rosh Hodesh is a day of extra atonement, and therefore it is appropriate to increase supplications and prayers prior to Rosh Hodesh. However, the question may be asked: how do we know that Rosh Hodesh is all about atonement? What is the basis for that?

Last year I heard someone offer that the basis is the following passage (Bava Metzia 85b):

Elijah used to frequent Rabbi’s academy. One day, on Rosh Hodesh, [Rabbi] was waiting for him, but he failed to come. Said he to him [the next day]: ‘Why did you not come?’ — He replied: ‘[I had to wait] until I awoke Abraham, washed his hands, and he prayed and I put him to rest again; likewise to Isaac and Jacob.’ ‘But why not wake them all together?’ — ‘I feared that they would pray too strongly and bring the Messiah before his time.’ ‘And is there anyone like them in this world?’ he asked. — ‘There is R’ Hiyya and his sons.’

He concluded that this teaches us that Rosh Hodesh is an auspicious time for prayer. I responded that this Midrash is certainly not the source for anything about Rosh Hodesh, but rather illustrative of what the Sages believed about Rosh Hodesh, which was itself sourced in the written Torah.


In the Bible, Rosh Hodesh is connected to the Sabbath. In Numbers 28, the sacrifices for special days are introduced with the sacrifices for Rosh Hodesh and the Sabbath. In II Kings 4 the assumption is that the people would gather for instruction on New Moons and Sabbaths, and the book of Isaiah opens by connecting the two days: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies,” and concludes with, “It shall come to pass, that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me.” Further, Unlike the other biblical mo’adim, appointed times, the Sabbath and Rosh Hodesh are bereft of positive commandments peculiar to themselves. On the rest of the appointed times, there are pilgrimages and personal sacrifices, sukka, and shofar blowing, and feasting. On the Sabbath, we are bidden to refrain from certain labors, and all of the positive observances we know, candle lighting, three meals, qiddush, etc., are institutions of the sages. On Rosh Hodesh, not only are there no positive commandments typical of the other special days, there is no prohibition of labor that characterizes the Sabbath and festivals. The sages taught that the Sabbaths were dedicated to Torah study, and to a lesser extent, the Yamim Tovim, but we can not do likewise on Rosh Hodesh, because six out of seven times, Rosh Hodesh is on a workday. It is thus no surprise that the sages could not decree some form of work stoppage on Rosh Hodesh like they did on the Hol Hamo’ed. Along with the matter of interrogating the witnesses and declaring the begining of the month in order to establish the calendar, the only other commandment of the day was the additional sacrifices in the Temple, a matter which was the prerogative of the court. However, we find something very interesting concerning those sacrifices: Every day, the offering consisted of two lambs, and on the Sabbath an additional two lambs, but on Rosh Hodesh, the offering was a whopping two bulls, a ram, seven lambs, and a he goat for a sin offering, which, by no coincidence, was the same as that offered on every day of Passover and on Pentecost. Not only that, the offerings for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sh’mini Atzereth were almost identical, except that instead of two bulls, only one bull was offered. (See here for an interesting idea on this topic.) In the Temple, the Rosh Hodesh service was basically that of a holiday due to its multiplicity of sacrifices, and as we have seen before, the main purpose of any sacrifice was the atonement. That is, the sages realized that only positive commandment of the Torah related to the day of Rosh Hodesh was an atonement service on par with that of all the other holidays, and therefore the theme of the day was atonement.

This is the meaning of the formula we use in the prayers of every Rosh Hodesh:

רָאשֵׁי חֳדָשִׁים לְעַמְּךָ נָתָתָּ.

You gave New Moons to your people

זְמַן כַּפָּרָה לְכָל תּולְדותָם.

A time for atonement for all their generations,

בִּהְיותָם מַקְרִיבִים לְפָנֶיךָ זִבְחֵי רָצון.

When they would offer before You desired sacrifices

וּשעִירֵי חַטָּאת לְכַפֵּר בַּעֲדָם.

and he-goats of sin-offerings to atone on their behalf.

And this is in contrast to the formulas used on the festivals, which describes their purposes:

וַתִּתֶּן לָנוּ יְ-יָ אֱלֹקינוּ בְּאַהֲבָה

And you lovingly gave us, O Lord, our God,

שַׁבָּתות לִמְנוּחָה

Sabbaths for rest

מועֲדִים לְשִׂמְחָה חַגִּים וּזְמַנִּים לְשָׂשׂוֹן

appointed times for happiness, festivals and seasons for gladness.


יום הזכרון הזה, יום תרועה

This Memorial Day, a day of sounding the shofar.

יום הכפורים הזה, למחילה לסליחה ולכפרה ולמחל בל את כל עעונותינו

This Day of Atonement, for forgiveness, for pardoning, and for atonement, and to forgive all of our sins.

In this light we can also understand why the Jews of Babylon developed what was a perplexing practice in the eyes of one of the last tanna’im (Ta’anith 28b):

Rav once came to Babylonia and noticed that they recited the Hallel on Rosh Hodesh; at first he thought of stopping them, but when he saw that they omitted parts of it, he said, “it is clearly evident that it is an old ancestral custom of theirs.” A Tanna taught: The individual should not recite [the Hallel], but once he has begun he should complete it.

That is, in early 3rd century Israel, the custom of reciting Hallel on Rosh Hodesh was unknown to our sages. Of all the rituals the Jews of the diaspora could have conceived of to mark the begining of the month, why would they choose the recitation of the Hallel? Why not some other biblical or rabbinical practices? Further, why would the recitation of such a Hallel be ideally limited to public prayer? What is wrong if one praying alone or if groups less than ten recite the Hallel?*

When the Temple stood, the recitation of the Hallel was the hallmark of the sacrificial service on Festivals (Arachin 10b). In the centuries after the Destruction, when the observance of Rosh Hodesh was sorely lacking its defining feature, the Temple service, the Jewish people of the Diaspora developed a practice, reciting Hallel, that harked back to Temple times. But because this new Hallel was not like the Hallel of the festivals and Hanukka, which is an obligation on every individual, but rather a means of recalling the Temple service which was on the behalf of the community, the sages limited this Hallel to the public prayers.

With all this in mind, we can better focus on another aspect of the Musaf prayer that is unique to Rosh Hodesh, one that we do not mention in all the other musafim:

מִזְבֵּחַ חָדָשׁ בְּצִיּון תָּכִין וְעולַת ראשׁ חודֶשׁ נַעֲלֶה עָלָיו

Establish a new altar in Zion, and we shall bring the New Moon burnt offering upon it.

וּשעִירֵי עִזִּים נַעֲשה בְרָצון. וּבַעֲבודַת בֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ נִשמַח כֻּלָּנוּ.

And we shall prepare he-goats with favor, and all of shall rejoice in the service of the Holy Temple.

וּבְשִׁירֵי דָּוִד עַבְדֶּךָ הַנִּשְׁמָעִים בְּעִירֶךָ. הָאֲמוּרִים לִפְנֵי מִזְבְּחֶךָ.

and through the songs of Your servant, David, heard in Your city, recited before Your Altar,
אַהֲבַת עולָם תָּבִיא לָהֶם וּבְרִית אָבות לַבָּנִים תִּזְכּור:

You shall grant them eternal love, and remember the covenant of the fathers on behalf of the children.

Only on Rosh Hodesh do we mention the recitation of the psalms that was an integral part of the Temple service, because it is only on Rosh Hodesh that we publicly recite psalms dedicated to the recollection of that service.

*I considered that perhaps sounding the shofar could have been introduced as a monthly custom, because it was also a a feature of the Temple services during the musafim, including Rosh Hodesh, but the Gemara mentions that at times in history, the Jews were wary of blowing the shofar even on Rosh Hashana, when it was an obligation everywhere and on everyone. Indeed, it was because of this that the shofar blowing was moved from the morning service to before musaf, so it would be difficult to introduce it when not necessary.

Parasha Notes Pin’has-Matoth-Masei

I would like to address the following difficulties in Parashath Pi’nhas:

Why were the tribes of Israel divided into families, and why were all the families listed? What purpose did it serve?

Why were certain women included on the list, namely, the daughters of Zelofhad and Serah the daughter of Asher?

Why were the Levites even mentioned in this latter count, if they were specifically not to receive shares of land? (In the begining of the book, their count was an introduction to their jobs in the Tabernacle, but here no such issue is raised.) Further, why were they divided also among families if they were not to receive real portions, and why is the matter of Aharon’s family reiterated at this point, including the deaths of Nadav and Avihu?

My attempted answers:

The sages and the Rishonim and the Aharonim never arrived at a consensus to resolve the difficulties posed by the commandments to give “more to the greater and less to the smaller,” yet to also divide the land by lot, and to somehow divide the land both among those who actually left Egypt and the next generation that came of age during the 40 years of sojourn (See here for how in Biblical idiom, “those who left Egypt” also refers to those born years after the Exodus.). For the most part, the significance of the families has not been analyzed, nor has there been offered a sufficient set of criteria for what constitutes a family, or who among Jacob’s descendants were privileged to start families.

However, I would like to point out some facts:

Statistically speaking, families ranged in size from about 4,000 souls on average (from the tribe of Simeon) to almost 60,000, from the tribe of Dan. Among Judah, families were on average 15,000, and from Issachar 20,000. Thus, a particular number or range of numbers did not seem to be the criterion. However, it is worth noting that the the tribe of Menashe, which at 50,000 was just about the average size for a tribe (about 601,000 divided by 12), had the most families, eight, and surprisingly enough, according to most maps that seek to draw the borders of the tribes, Menashshe received the most land, and this might have been an impetus for Moses to include part of that tribe in the land grant he gave to Reuben and Gad.

On the other hand, the tribe of Dan numbered some 10,000 more than average, and yet, as described in a number of places in the books of Joshua and Judges, Dan received the smallest portion, and not coincidentally, they only made up a single family. These facts would indicate that families, specifically the numbers thereof, had what to do with how much land a tribe received.

As for the daughters of Zelofhad, most suggest that they were on the list because even though they were women, they received a portion of the land among the men. Now, Rashi says that Serah, Asher’s daughter, or as the Targum has it, step-daughter, was included in the count because she was still alive. The implication is that if other granddaughters of Jacob had also been alive, they would have also been entitled to land. Why should this be? I would suggest that any granddaughters of Jacob would have been entitled to a piece of the land in their own right, because, by definition, they could not be part of any of the tribal families. That is, in Serah’s case for example, it was her brothers who were the founder of the tribal families. (It is obvious that when the Torah says, for example, that someone had a family, and that each of his two mentioned sons also had families, the people included in his family were from all his children who were not those specifically named sons. For example, Peretz had a family, and so did his sons Hetzron and Hamul, so those who remained in the Peretz family were all those descendants of Peretz who were not descendants of Hetzron and Hamul, i.e., from other children not mentioned.) Serah was exceptional in two ways: she was a granddaughter of Jacob, and she had survived, and therefore she was entitled to land in her own right because she was not part of any family (because she could not be a descendant of one of her brothers) although she was a full-fledged member of the tribe. This also explains why in Mattoth we read about how the family of Machir received the Gilead, in the Transjordan, but Jair and Novah, the two other childless sons of Menashe, who by definition could not be part of the tribal families of Menashe, had, like Serah, also miraculously lived well after the Exodus, and seized control of their territories, which they named after themselves (Numbers 32:40-42).

As for the Levites, their families are listed because we need to understand how, in the times of Joshua, the Levites were able to divide themselves up among the 48 cities given to them, and how even though there were only living three kohanim a year after the Exodus, by the time the land and cities were apportioned, the kohanim ended up getting such a large share of the Levitic cities.

הרוצח בשגגה והכהן הגדול


לחכות עד שהכהן ימות?

בפרשת מסעי, אנו קוראים על העונש המגיע לרוצח בשגגה, המכונה בלשון חז׳׳ל ״גלות,״ ושארכו מוחלט לא על ידי בית דין של מטה, אלא על ידי בית הדין של מעלה, מתי שהוא מזמין את הכהן הגדול למנוחתו. ולמה יהיה כך? מה הקשר בינו ובין הפושע הלז? למה חייו של הכהן יהיו הגורם המחליט את ענשו של הזולת?

נתחיל עם דברי רש׳׳י לבמדבר לה:כה:

עד מות הכהן הגדול: שהוא בא להשרות שכינה בישראל ולהאריך ימיהם, והרוצח בא לסלק את השכינה מישראל ומקצר את ימי החיים. אינו כדאי שיהא לפני כהן גדול (ספרי מסעי כ׳) .דבר אחר לפי שהיה לו לכהן גדול להתפלל שלא תארע תקלה זו לישראל בחייו (מכות יא:).

שני טעמים אלו נאמרו ע׳׳י חז׳׳ל, אבל שאלותינו עדיין לא נענו. נניח שהכהן הגדול מסמל את ההפך של שופך הדמים, והיה לו לעשות יותר כדי למנוע את מות הנקיים, אבל מה הרוצח מרויח מזה? מה אכפת לו אם יישב בדד עשרות שנים, שנים תלויות במתי שזה ייצא לעולמו? ואדרבה, המשנה (מכות שם) מספרת על איך שאמותיהם של הכהנים הגדולים ניסו לשחד את הרוצחים, למצוא חן בעיניהם כדי שלא יתפללו שהכהן ימות, ומזה רואים שהרבה רוצחים באו לראות את הכה׳׳ג כעוין.

אלא, מסתברא שהקשר בין גזר דינו של הרוצח ובין חייו שלכהן אמור ללמדו לקח, להעניק לו על מה לחשוב משך תקופת מאסרו.

ההלכה הופכת את הרוצח לכהן גדול

לפני שנגיע לתשובתנו ההצעתית, ישנן כמה הלכות המשוות את הרוצח, כשהוא בעיר המקלט, לכהן הגדול. (כדי להקל על הקורא, כל ההלכות כאן מובאות מהלכות רוצח ושמירת הנפש וכלי המקדש והעובדים בו ועבודת יום הכפורים להרמב׳׳ם, אבל מקורם בדברי חז׳׳ל גלויים לכל מאן דבעי לעיוני בהון טפי.)

אם קרובו של הכהן הגדול ייפטר הכהן

אינו יוצא אחריו, ואינו יוצא מפתח ביתו או מן המקדש; וכל העם באים לנחמו לביתו. וְהוּא עוֹמֵד בְּשׁוּרָה, וּסְגַן מִיְּמִינו וְרֹאשׁ בֵּית אָב מִשְּׂמֹאלוֹ; וְאוֹמְרִים לוֹ אָנוּ כַּפָּרָתָךְ, וְהוּא אוֹמֵר לָהֶם תִּתְבָּרְכוּ מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם. וּכְשֶׁמַּבְרִין אוֹתוֹ, כָּל הָעָם מְסֻבִּין עַל הָאָרֶץ; וְהוּא מֵסֶב עַל הַסַּפְסַל.

וזה במקביל למצב הנוצר על ידי הרוצח, בגלל שגואל הדם אינו מספיק להתאבל על מתו כמו שצריך, בישיבת שבעה, כי עסוק הוא ברדיפת הרוצח.


תַּלְמִיד שֶׁגָּלָה לְעָרֵי מִקְלָט, מַגְלִין רִבּוֹ עִמּוֹ:  שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “וָחָי” (דברים ד,מב; דברים יט,ד; דברים יט,ה)–עֲשֵׂה לוֹ כְּדֵי שֶׁיִּחְיֶה, וְחַיֵּי בַּעֲלֵי חָכְמָה וּמְבַקְּשֶׁיהָ בְּלֹא תַּלְמוּד כְּמִיתָה חֲשׁוּבָה. 

ואצל הכהן המתכונן לעבודתו ביום הכפורים:

וּמוֹסְרִין לוֹ זְקֵנִים מִזִּקְנֵי בֵּית דִּין, וְקוֹרְאִין לְפָנָיו וּמְלַמְּדִין אוֹתוֹ עֲבוֹדַת הַיּוֹם וְסִדּוּרָהּ; וְאוֹמְרִין לוֹ, אִישִׁי כּוֹהֵן גָּדוֹל, קְרָא אַתָּה בְּפִיךָ, שֶׁמֶּא שָׁכַחְתָּ אוֹ שֶׁמֶּא לֹא לָמַדְתָּ דָּבָר זֶה.

בקשר להשהותו בעיר המקלט, נפסק להלכה:

וְרוֹצֵחַ שֶׁמֵּת בְּעִיר מִקְלָטוֹ, קוֹבְרִין אוֹתוֹ שָׁם. (וּבְעֵת שֶׁיָּמוּת הַכּוֹהֵן הַגָּדוֹל, מוֹלִיכִין עַצְמוֹת הָרוֹצֵחַ מִשָּׁם לְקִבְרֵי אֲבוֹתָיו)….הַגּוֹלֶה אֵינוּ יוֹצֶא מֵעִיר מִקְלָטוֹ לְעוֹלָם, וְאַפִלּוּ לִדְבַר מִצְוָה, אוֹ לְעֵדוּת בֵּין עֵדוּת מָמוֹן בֵּין עֵדוּת נְפָשׁוֹת:  וְאַפִלּוּ לְהַצִּיל נֶפֶשׁ בְּעֵדוּתוֹ, אוֹ לְהַצִּיל מִיַּד הַגַּיִס, אוֹ מִיַּד הַנָּהָר, מִיַּד הַדְּלֵקָה, וּמִיַּד הַמַּפֹּלֶת.  וְאַפִלּוּ כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל צְרִיכִין לִתְשׁוּעָתוֹ כְּיוֹאָב בֶּן צְרוּיָה, אֵינוּ יוֹצֶא מִשָּׁם לְעוֹלָם עַד שֶׁיָּמוּת הַכּוֹהֵן הַגָּדוֹל.  וְאִם יָצָא, הִתִּיר עַצְמוֹ לְמִיתָה כְּמוֹ שֶׁבֵּאַרְנוּ.

ומקבילו אצל הכהן הגדול:

וּבַיִת יִהְיֶה לוֹ מוּכָן בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ, וְהִיא הַנִּקְרֵאת לִשְׁכַּת כּוֹהֵן גָּדוֹל.  וּכְבוֹדוֹ וְתִפְאַרְתּוֹ שֶׁיִּהְיֶה יוֹשֵׁב בַּמִּקְדָּשׁ, כָּל הַיּוֹם; וְלֹא יֵצֵא אֵלָא לְבֵיתוֹ בִּלְבָד, בַּלַּיְלָה אוֹ שָׁעָה אוֹ שְׁתַּיִם בַּיּוֹם.  וְיִהְיֶה בֵּיתוֹ בִּירוּשָׁלַיִם, וְאֵינוּ זָז מִשָּׁם…. וְכוֹהֵן גָּדוֹל דָּן, וְדָנִין אוֹתוֹ, וּמְעִידִין עָלָיו; וְאֵין דָּנִין אוֹתוֹ דִּינֵי נְפָשׁוֹת אֵלָא בְּבֵית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל בִּלְבָד, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “כָּל-הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל יָבִיאוּ אֵלֶיךָ” (שמות יח,כב). הָיָה יוֹדֵעַ עֵדוּת–אֵינוּ חַיָּב לַהֲעִידָהּ, וְאַפִלּוּ בְּבֵית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל:  שֶׁזֶּה אֵינוּ כָּבוֹד לוֹ, שֶׁיֵּלֵךְ וְיָעִיד.  וְאִם הָיְתָה עֵדוּת לְמֶלֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל–הֲרֵי זֶה הוֹלֵךְ לְבֵית דִּין הַגָּדוֹל, וּמֵעִיד לוֹ.

הצד השוה בהם הוא ששניהם מצויים בערים מוקפות חומה בארץ ישראל, מקומות יותר קדושים משאר הארץ, הכה׳׳ג בירושלים ואינו ראוי לצאת עד יום מותו, והרוצח בעיר מקלטו עד יום מות הכהן, ואם יחליט לצאת לפני כן, דמו בראשו, והכה׳׳ג רק יוצא להעיד בעד המלך אם בית הדין יושב בירושלים. נמצא שהכהן הגדול נשאר בחברת משרתי עליון, הכהנים והלויים, בתוך המקדש, והרוצח נשאר באותה החברה, בעיר כהנים או עיר לויים (ראה ביהושע פר׳ שערי הלוויים המצוות בתורה בפועל נתנו גם לכהנים.)

ועוד, הרוצח נשאר בשפלותו לחיים:

אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנִּתְכַּפַּר לוֹ, אֵינוּ חוֹזֵר לַשְּׂרָרָה שֶׁהָיָה בָּהּ לְעוֹלָם, אֵלָא הֲרֵי הוּא מוּרָד מִגְּדֻלָּתוֹ כָּל יָמָיו, הוֹאִיל וּבָאָה תַּקְלָה זוֹ הַגְּדוֹלָה עַל יָדוֹ.

אבל כהן גדול נשאר בגדולתו כל חייו

מַעֲלִין מִשְּׂרָרָה לִשְׂרָרָה שְׁהִיא גְּדוֹלָה מִמֶּנָּה, וְאֵין מוֹרִידִין אוֹתוֹ לִשְׂרָרָה שְׁהִיא לְמַטָּה מִמֶּנָּה–שֶׁמַּעֲלִין בַּקֹּדֶשׁ, וְלֹא מוֹרִידִין לְעוֹלָם מִשְּׂרָרָה שֶׁבְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל:

וכן אירע כמה פעמים בתולדות ישראל שהיו כמה כהנים עם דין של כהן גדול, כמו במצב שנטמא הכהן הגדול ביום כפור, ונכנס אחר למלא מקומו:

עָבַר יוֹם הַכִּפּוּרִים–הֲרֵי הָרִאשׁוֹן חוֹזֵר לַעֲבוֹדָתוֹ, וְהַשֵּׁנִי עוֹבֵר.  וְכָל מִצְוַת כְּהֻנָּה גְּדוֹלָה עָלָיו, אֵלָא שְׁאֵינוּ עוֹבֵד כְּכוֹהֵן גָּדוֹל; וְאִם עָבַד, עֲבוֹדָתוֹ כְּשֵׁרָה.  וְאִם מֵת הָרִאשׁוֹן, זֶה הַשֵּׁנִי מִתְמַנֶּה תַּחְתָּיו.

כל הדוגמאות הללו מראות שהתורה מקשרת את מעמדו של הרוצח עם זה של הכהן הגדול. התורה בדרך כלל קובעת עונשים כמו מלקות, או מיתה, או קנסים כספיים, אבל במקום להעניש את הרוצח בשגגה, ניתנה לו הזדמנות ייחודית להדמות לכהן הגדול. הדפים הראשונים של מסכת מכות מתמודדים עם חוסר עקביות זה. בדרך כלל, מענישים עד זומם ״כאשר זמם לעשות לאחיו,״ אשר נגדו הוא העיד שווא. לכן, אם בקשו עדים זוממים שראובן יילקה על עוון אכילת בשר חזיר שהוא באמת לא אכל, או להפסיד את ממונו על ידי תשלום על נזקים שהוא לא גרם, בסוף העדים סופגים את הארבעים או משלמים. עם זאת, הגלות לעיר מקלט איננה אופציה עבורם אם הם זממו להאשים המסכן הלז ברציחה בשגגה, כמו שאין דרך להפוך אותם לחללים למרות שהם ביקשו להעיד שאמו של כהן מסוים היתה זחו׳׳ג. למה לא נַגלה את העדים הזוממים האלה? הלא עונש הגלות הגופנית דומה יותר למלקות או  מיתה? אלא, נראה כי הטלת הגלות על הרוצח היא לא עונש כשלעצמו, אלא צורה כלשהי של תקון, וכי קיים קשר מסתורי בין הכהן הגדול לבין הרוצח, וזה עושה את שאלותינו הקודמות רק חזקות יותר.  בית דין אינו יכול להעניש עבריין בחילול מעמד כהונתו, וכמו כן אינו יכול להעניש על ידי מתן מעמד כהונה. לכן עלינו לשאול, מהי מטרת הגלות? מדוע יהיה עונשו של הרוצח תלוי בתוחלת חייו של הכהן הגדול? מדוע במקום להעניש את הרוצח, התורה קובעת שהוא יתנהג כמו כהן גדול? מה היא מלמדתנו?

הנזיר והכהן

הנזיר מקבל על עצמו סדרה של איסורים שהופכים אותו כמעט לכהן. כהן הוא קדוש יותר מיהודי הדיוט דווקא משום שחלות עליו מצוות נוספות, כמו שקדושת השבת וימים נובעת מאיסור המלאכה החל על אותם ימים, ומי שעושה מלאכה בהם, מחללם. בשתי מצוות הנזיר מחקה את הכהן, ובשתי מצוות הוא עושה בדיוק את ההפך: א׳ הנזיר נמנע מהיין כמו שהכהן נמנע ממשקאות משכרים כאשר הוא אמור לשרת במקדש, ב׳ הנזיר אינו נטמא למתים כמו כהן, ג׳ הכהן מקריב קרבן מיוחד, מנחת החנוך, כשמתחיל לכהן, ואילו הנזיר מקריב קרבן מיוחד כאשר הוא מסיים את נזירותו, ד׳ על הכהן נאסר גידול פרע ראשו, לא יותר משלושים יום של גידול שיער, ואילו הנזיר חייב לגדל פרע ראשו לפחות לשלשים יום ועד תום נזירותו. ואמרו חז”ל שאורך השיער המקסימלי של הכהן נלמד מדין שיעור השיער המינימלי של הנזיר.

מהי מטרת ההשוואה ההלכתית בין הנזיר והכהן? לפי חכמינו, הנזירות גורמת התבוננות מבחינה רוחנית. לדוגמה, הנזיר לומד כיצד להימנע מחטאים פוטנציאליים על ידי החמרה על עצמו וקפדנות, ההמנעות מהשתכרות שומרת עליו מנסיונות של התאוות הבהמיות, ועל ידי ההמנעות מטומאה חמורה, הוא תמיד זמין להתעסק בקדשים, כמו הכהנים. לנזיר יש אפוא חוויה מרוממת על ידי התבוננות באיסוריו הנוספים, ומעניק לעצמו הזדמנויות רבות יותר לקיים מצוות חיוביות מסוימות, המקדמות גידול רוחני. הנזיר האמיתי כאילו אומר בלבו, “הכהן הוא קרוב לה׳ על ידי התבוננות במצוותיו הנוספות, ואני רוצה להתקרב לה׳, אז אני אעשה כל מה שאני יכול כדי להיות כמו כהן.”

וכן לגבי הרוצח בשגגה.

שָנים בכלא

תאר לעצמך מה קורה בלב הרוצח לאחר שהתרגל לביתו ולחייו החדשים. כבר הסתיימה סדרת האירועים שהתחילה בגרימת מותו של הרֵע, ובריחתו מגואל הדם אל עיר המקלט, והעמדתו למשפט, והרשעתו, ונסיעתו חזרה לעיר המקלט לכַהן כהונה משונה, ועכשיו יש לו זמן לשקול את מצבו החדש. אם הוא רגיל להאשים אחרים, ואינו חושב על חלקו בקביעת גורלו, הוא ייכשל, ויישב ויקווה ויתפלל ר׳׳ל שהכהן הגדול יעזוב את העולם הזה הכי מהר שאפשר כדי שיוכל לעזוב את בית כלאו. מבחינתו, זוהי תחרות, ​​מי לא ימות ראשון. הוא לא ילמד דבר. או, הוא יכול לחשוב לא רק על זה שגורלו תלוי בכהן הגדול, אלא איך שהוא עצמו עכשיו במצב דומה לזה של הכהן הגדול, עצור בכלוב זהב, מוקף משרתיו של הקב׳׳ה. יש מצב שאז הוא יתחיל לומר לעצמו, ״מכמה בחינות אני מחויב במצוות דומות לאלה המחייבות את הכהן הגדול. אני אמור להתנהג כמוהו. מהו תפקידו העיקרי של הכהן הגדול? הקרבנות הם רק אמצעי, ובאמת תפקידו של הכהן הוא להביא ולהגדיל את השלום לכלל ישראל. הוא אמור לשמור על כולם, ואילו הבנתי את זה קודם, לא היתה לי את ההשקפה חסרת האכפתיות שהובילה אותי לגרום למותו של בן אדם. אני באמת צריך ללמוד איך להיות חנון ורחום וגומל חסדים כמו רבנו, הכהן הגדול, ממלא מקומו של אהרן הכהן הראש. אני צריך לקדש שם שמים בעה׳׳ז ולהיות מקובל על הבריות, ולא להחשיך את העולם בשפיכות דמים. מהלאה אני צריך לבקש את טובתם של הבריות וּלכבדם.”

או שהרוצח חי ככה במשך כל הזמן שהכהן הגדול גם חי, ואם הוא ימות לפני מותו של הכהן, ייקבר בקבר אבותיו רק אחרי שהכהן הגדול נקבר בשלו, או, הוא יקבל הזדמנות חדשה לחיות כאשר הכהן הגדול יילך לעולמו ותוך כדי כך יכפר על חטאי כל הדור, כולל אלה של הרוצח. ואז הרוצח פתאום חופשי לעזוב את העיר שלו בלי לפחד שהוא ייהרג, והוא מבין איך חייו היו קשורים בקשר הדוק עם חיי הכהן הגדול, אשר כביכול, נתן את הרוצח חיים חדשים על ידי מותו! זאת בניגוד מוחלט לנסיבות שהביאו אותו לעיר המקלט, כאשר הוא לקח את חיי הזולת. רק אז הוא משֻקּם, והוא מסוגל לחזור לחברה, לממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש.

Kanna’im and the Lesson of Beith Shammai and Beith Hillel

Why is it that among the dozens of Tannaim, the sages mentioned in the Mishna, we only find two Yeshivoth that express opinions worthy of being recorded for posterity, namely Beith Shammai and Beith Hillel? Surely Rabbi Jose the Galilean, or Rashbi, or Rabbi Akiva, or Rabbi Meir, or Rabbi Yehuda ben Illai, or Rabbi Joshua, or Rabbi Eliezer would have raised a generation of student-scholars capable of rendering an opinion. And indeed, we do know of whole academies from the third century until the present day, and their collective opinions are recorded. Yet the Mishnaic period is mostly silent, save for the numerous arguments between the schools of Shammai and Hillel.

The answer, I believe, lies in the sages’ description of the controversies between the two schools as being for the sake of heaven (Avoth 5:17): 

Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven is destined to endure; one that is not for the sake of Heaven is not destined to endure. Which is a dispute that is for the sake of Heaven? The dispute(s) between Hillel and Shamai.


The sages actually wanted to discourage potential Phinehas’s from taking lethal action against perceived sinners, even when the halacha (Sanhedrin 9:6) prescribes that zealots may kill transgressors (Sanhedrin 82a):

R’ Hisda said, “If the zealot comes to take counsel [as to whether to strike the offenders], we do not instruct him to do so.” It has been stated likewise: Rabba b. Bar Hana said in R. Yohanan’s name, “If he comes to take counsel, we do not instruct him to do so. Also, if Zimri had stopped and Phinehas still slew him, Phinehas would have been executed on his account, and had Zimri turned upon Phinehas and slain him, he would not have been executed, since Phinehas was a pursuer [trying to take his life].

The result of these interpretations is that in order for one to ever take such action, he would need a very high level of confidence, probably like that of a prophet violating an explicit prohibition when instructed to do so by God Himself, one that to my knowledge, has not been attained by anyone else in recorded history. At three more junctures we find that Phinehas would take action, but only after consultation with a higher authority. The first is in this book of Numbers, the second is in the book of Joshua, and the third is in the book of Judges.

Next week we will read (Numbers 31:1-7):

 The Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, ‘Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites; afterward shall you be gathered unto your people.’ Moses spoke unto the people, saying: ‘Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian, to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. Of every tribe a thousand, of all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the war.’ So there were delivered, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. Moses sent them, a thousand of every tribe, to the war, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest…

That is, even though this would be a war of God’s vengeance, Phinehas was not acting on his own, but rather as an agent of Moses.

Some fifteen years later, after the Land of Canaan had been divided among the tribes we find (Joshua 22:9-13):

The children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses. When they came to the region about the Jordan, that is in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, a great altar to look upon. The children of Israel heard them saying: ‘Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar in the forefront of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, across from the children of Israel.’ When the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up against them to war. The children of Israel sent unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, into the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten leaders, one leader of a fathers’ house for each of the tribes of Israel; and they were every one of them head of their fathers’ houses among the thousands of Israel. They came unto the children of Reuben, and to the children of Gad, and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, unto the land of Gilead, and they spoke with them.

That is, although the majority of the people were gearing up for a religiously motivated civil war, coolers heads still prevailed, and Phinehas served as the head of a fact-finding mission commissioned by the people’s leaders.

Even later we read about how an aggrieved Levite sought to provoke the rest of the tribes into a war against the single tribe of Benjamin (Judges 19:29-30, 20):

 Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was assembled as one man, from Dan to Beersheba, with the land of Gilead, to the Lord at Mizpah. The chiefs of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword. Now the children of Benjamin heard that the children of Israel were gone up to Mizpah.–And the children of Israel said: ‘Tell us, how was this wickedness brought to pass?’ And the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said: ‘I came into Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to lodge. The men of Gibeah rose against me, and beset the house round about upon me by night; me they thought to have slain, and they raped my concubine, and she is deadI took my concubine, and cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel; for they have committed lewdness and wantonness in Israel. Behold, you are all here, children of Israel, give here your advice and council.’ All the people arose as one man, saying: ‘We will not any of us go to his tent, neither will we any of us turn unto his house. But now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah: we will go up against it by lot, and we will take ten men of a hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and a hundred of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand, to fetch victuals for the people, that they may do, when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, according to all the wantonness that they have wrought in Israel.’ So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man.

But before they attacked, they consulted God:

The children of Israel arose, and went up to Beth-el, and asked counsel of God; and they said: ‘Who shall go up for us first to battle against the children of Benjamin?’… And the children of Israel went up and wept before the Lord until even; and they asked of the Lord, saying: ‘Shall I again draw nigh to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother?’ And the Lord said: ‘Go up against him.’ …. The children of Israel asked of the Lord–for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, and Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days–saying: ‘Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease?’

And this time, it was Phinehas who thrice asked God as to what to do.

Some years ago I also wrote about how God relieved Elijah of his duties as prophet because he could not learn how to control his zealous tendencies. Thus, the clear message is that zealotry is undesirable, even when it comes from the greatest of men. 


When Eldad and Medad’s prophecies posed a challenge to Moses’s authority, we read:

וַיַּעַן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה מִבְּחֻרָיו–וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶׁה, כְּלָאֵם. וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה, הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי; וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל-עַם יְי, נְבִיאִים–כִּי-יִתֵּן יְי אֶת-רוּחוֹ, עֲלֵיהֶם.

Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses mib’huraw, answered and said, “My master, Moses, incarcerate them.” Moses said unto him, “Ham’qanne atta, are you zealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!”

Note how Joshua is here described in even more ways than usual. Not just Joshua, not Joshua bin Nun, not just Moses’s attendant, an appellation used before to indicate his close mentor/student relationship with Moses, but also mib’huraw, which, as the Ibn Ezra points out, could mean “since his youth,” i.e., Joshua had served Moses since the former was a young man,  but that is untenable, because Joshua, who at the time was about 40 years of age, could only have entered Moses’s service two years before that, when Moses returned to Egypt in advance of the Exodus. Rather, mib’huraw means “of Moses’s bahurim” the word for young men that even until today is used to describe those who are dedicated to Torah study, or in Yinglish, “yeshiva bachurs.” (This explanation of the word was first given by Rabbeinu Bahyeh.) That is, although Moses was the teacher of all Israel, Joshua was part of Moses’s personal yeshiva.

It seems that the way of kanna’im is fundamentally different from that of their teachers, and it is to be reined in. The phenomenon of students being zealous for the sake of their rabbeim goes back to the very first yeshiva, and it was the first rosh yeshiva who rebuked his top student for displaying kanna’ut for the Rebbe’s honor. The master does not need his students to speak up on his behalf. How much more so should this lesson be heeded today.

Some years ago, after the Slifkin controversy had left the front pages of the new, Jewish blogosphere, Gil Student wrote this summary of the events. I felt that it glossed over an essential part of the story: the role of the kanna’im in the whole affair. I can not find the whole text of the original now, but at the time, the internet was still the frontier for these discussions, and I typed a letter to the Jewish Press which was printed in the next week’s issue. In it, I mentioned what I had heard from Rabbi Eliyahu Soloveichik in the name of R’ Chayim Soloveichik. In the kitchen there are two who wish to be rid of the mice, the balabusta because of hygiene, and the cat because he is hungry. When great scholars speak out strongly against what they feel are threats to Jewish continuity, they are like balabustas, but the kanna’im and askanim, who are looking to pick fights, are like the cats. The Slifkin affair was not instigated by Rabbi Elyashiv and his colleagues, who were content to sit and study in peace and let their opinions and examples speak for themselves, but rather by hangers-on and professional controversy stirrers.

Years later there was another individual who also came out strongly on some issue which I can not recall and, to justify his strong denunciations, he pointed out that he was a talmid muvhak, a prime student, of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who had, against his usual behavior, also come out strongly on this issue. He was just doing as his rebbe did. I wrote to him at the time there was an essential difference between him and R’ Moshe. R’ Moshe was a widely respected and famous scholar, while he was certainly not famed for his piety and scholarship, and therefore, when his rebbe would express a very strong opinion, it would be taken into account, but if he himself comes out of left field ranting and raving, he will be considered some meshugenneh from New Jersey. Apparently, he accepted what I had to say, because he stopped after that.

Most recently, I wrote that letter to Rabbi Nochum Eisenstein. When I think of talmidim of Rav Elyashiv, I think of Rav Efrati, a man known for his schools of Jewish scholarship and their publications regarding practical and relevant halacha, and specifically Israeli halacha, a man I have spoken to in person on a number of occasions when real practical and personal questions came up, and he is not such a kanna’i. And then there’s Rabbi Eisenstein, who, unfortunately, is now known more for associating with those desecrators of God’s Name who initiated the Slifkin ban and for illogically denouncing God-fearing Jews for trying to fulfill the commandments. This fits into the pattern I mentioned above. The students care less about the logic behind the opinions and views they received, and more about the bottom line, and out of pride in their rebbe, they seek to impose “their rebbe’s” opinion on others or demand that others respect their rebbe as much as they do. Did R’ Elyashiv really feel so negatively about Jews wearing t’cheileth? Of course not. He felt that they have whom to rely on. Yet it is his students who need to go out and make sure that others honor those positions by practicing them. MY Rebbe is the greatest, and therefore ALL shall follow him.

This, therefore, is why I believe other schools are not mentioned in the Mishna. Beith Shammai and Beith Hillel demonstrated a profound respect for each other. The sages imply that when there were differences of opinion between other schools, it was not l’shem shamayim, but rather tinged with personal interests. If there was a dispute between Beith Rabbi Joshua and Beith Rabbi Eliezer, it may have been corrupted by the students who took their rebbes’ views too seriously, maybe even to the extent that they could not understand why others would not accept them. When the sages sought an example of an intellectually honest disputation, they did not propose “the differences of opinion between the various yeshivoth” because, unfortunately, those are usually not born of pure motives. Only Beith Shammai and Beith Hillel achieved that. The sages pointed out (Y’vamoth 14) that although some of the disputes between the schools were regarding the most severe of prohibitions, the forbidden relations, this did not prevent them from tolerating the others’ practices. This statement is remarkable because of what it implies regarding other schools: they would not intermarry with others’ because of the implications and consequences of the others’ halachic views on pedigree and familial association. This phenomenon is of course still around today, where, in some circles it is considered verboten for a young man of one yeshiva community to be matched with a young woman from another if it is too different, whether so different that they wear different hats, or that, God forbid, one is Ashkenazi and the other Sepharadi.   

Our role as students and as objective seekers of the truth is to make sure, therefore, that we not have so much confidence in our views to the extent that we denigrate the views of others or seek to impose our views on others, or, God forbid, to take action against others, and all of these even for those positions which we have received with certainty from our Rabbeim.

Following the Rulings of the Rambam: A Recent Discussion of Consistency in Deciding Halakhah

I mostly agree with everything the author writes here.



Rambam SignatureIn response to a recent article on the topic of taharat ha-mishpahah published on the website, a certain rav objected to my use of the Mishneh Torah in coming to halakhic conclusions. Among other things, relying on the Rambam obviates the need for either invasive internal bedikot or the use of a mokh. Citing the common Haredi claims that “we don’t pasken like the Rambam” and “we follow the Shulchan Aruch,” this rav attempts to invalidate my conclusions for anyone but those who happen to be traditional Yemenites, a conclusion which I vigorously oppose. 

The discussion of these particular issues is central to understanding the gap that divides Mekoriut (and the classical Sefardic approach) from the Haredi world, and clearly displays the halakhic double-standards inherent in their position.

A PDF our exchange is available for download here: A Recent Exchange

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